Veteran journalist and former Lagos State Governor Lateef Jakande passed on Thursday. EMMANUEL OLADESU writes on the life and times of the ‘Action Governor,’ his legacies and lessons for the political class
Nobody will live forever. But, history will be kind to mortars who left good legacies in their fields of endeavour, in politics and national service.
At 91, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande, veteran journalist and eminent politician, bade the world farewell on Thursday. The ideologue, social critic, author, administrator, and associate of the indomitable leader, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, died peacefully at his Ilupeju residence, the same house from where he steered the ship of Lagos State in the Second Republic.
Jakande, fondly called ‘Baba Kekere’ by admirers, was an asset to the polity. Following his demise, the class of 1979-83 governors has now been completely decimated. The survivors now are Chief Jim Nwobodo (old Anambra State), Dr Omololu Olunloyo (old Oyo), Senator Donald Etiebet (Cross River) and Senator Cornelius Adebayo (old Kwara).
Jakande will not be remembered by any fat bank account, property in choice areas and penchant for primitive accumulation. He will be remembered as a professional and ethical journalist, an honest politician, a workaholic and result-driven governor and minister, and a man of honour and integrity.
Of course, he will also be remembered for demystifying the hallowed driver’s seat. His simplicity and lack of avarice were legendary. With his simple Buba lace, an Awo cap to match and horsetail, he sometimes drove himself in his austere Toyota Crown to the Governor’s Office, Alausa Secretariat, Ikeja, which he built.
There is no record without a hollow. Although LKJ tried to explain his participation in the Abacha government, Nigerians were not convinced because he did not quit until he was booted out by the maximum ruler. But, the singular error or miscalculation has never obliterated his place in the hall of fame.
Thirty-nine years after leaving power in Lagos, his administration has remained a benchmark for others in the Centre of Excellence. Jakande, son of the former Oluwo of Lagos, stood before the mirror of history as an elder statesman, mentor and role model. He was a special gift to humanity.
The man Jakande
He was born on July 23, 1929, at Oshodi Tapa, Lagos Island, by humble and deeply religious parents. But, his progenitors have their roots in Omu-Aran, Kwara State. He became a child of promise while at Ilesa Grammar School under the principal, the late Rev. Noah Lafimikan. He was also fond of a favourite teacher, Efon Kingdom-born Prince Olajide Olowolagba, father of Dr Kunle Olajide, Secretary of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE).
Jakande took off as a reporter. He worked with “The Daily Service” and “Nigerian Tribune” where he rose to Editor-In-Chief. Since he started his career in the days of colonialism, Jakande was a nationalist-journalist who used his pen and paper to fight against colonialism.
As All Progressives Congress (APC) National Leader Asiwaju Bola Tinubu once recalled, Jakande was one of the most effective publicists of welfarism, federalism and constitutionalism, which the defunct Action Group (AG) symbolised.
Early in life, Jakande had a pact with the late Awolowo, his leader. To underscore his loyalty to the sage, he jettisoned his university admission to study Economics abroad because Awo wanted him to stay on in “Tribune” where his service was valuable.
In the days of hot regional politics and tribulations when the AG ran into stormy waters, Jakande did not desert his mentor. Jakande was pencilled down for liquidation during the treasonable felony trial. Like Awo, he received his jail sentence from the judge, whose hands were tied, Justice George Sowemimo. But, he Eventually, he triumphed over the ordeals. When he regained his freedom, he catalogued his experience into a book: ‘The trial of Chief Obafemi Awolowo.’
In the late seventies, Jakande became a prominent member of the Committee of Friends, the precursor of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN).
Ahead of the primary, eyes were on three people as likely governor in 1979. These were Akanbi Onitiri, Ganiyu Dawodu and Adeniran Ogunsanya. Onitiri, a hero of the treasonable trial, left Awo for Zik’s Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP) to chase an elusive presidential ticket. Unfortunately, during one of the numerous journeys with strange bedfellows, he lost his life in an auto crash.
Ogunsanya, lawyer, former Minister of Housing and Surveys and Lagos State Commissioner for Education could not extract from Awo a firm assurance that he would be given the governorship ticket. So, he never defected from the NPP to the UPN.
Urging Dawodu to step down for LKJ, Awo asked the ‘god of Lagos:’ Is there anything you cannot give to me? Dawodu replied: “Leader, nothing, except my wife.”
The coast was clear for Jakande. He became the consensus candidate of the UPN. His campaigns were always peaceful, well organised, well planned and well-coordinated and he never abused his opponent, Ladega Adeniji-Adele of the proscribed National Party of Nigeria (NPN). Jakande’s campaign promises were premised on the four cardinal programmes of free education, free medical services, full employment and rural development. The outgoing Military Administrator, Commodore Ebutu Ukiwe, doubted his ability to execute the proposed programmes due to lack of fund. Jakande inherited a hostile civil service, which also frowned at the programmes.
Undaunted, Jakande declared at the inauguration ceremony that the implementation of the programmes had started. The revenue came from sheer financial engineering. Also, Jakande examined the area of ground rents for government lands in Ikoyi, Victoria Island, Ebute-Meta, Ikoyi and other key areas. He turned revenues from land into his cocoa proceeds or oil boom.
From day one, his incorruptible nature came to the fore. To Jakande, Lagos State was not for grab. He shunned materialism and opulence in public office.
As governor-elect, Jakande had no generator in his residence at Bishop Street, Ilupeju. But, he insisted on conducting the affairs of the state from the one-storey building, which he had built as a journalist. Reminiscing on his tenure as governor, Jakande said: “I believe I should live among the people, instead of living in a remote area. I wanted to serve. I also believed my people should have access to me. So, I stayed in my house.” Remarkably, his role model, Awo, also lived in his private residence at Ibadan when he served as Premier of the defunct Western Region.
Jakande did not permit frivolous spending. Former Secretary to Government in the Jakande administration Olorunfunmi Basorun said: “The former governor disliked unprofitable foreign tours at the expense of the state. He was a workaholic who resumed duty at his Alausa office at 8 am, only to close at 6 pm.
“When the December 31, 1983 coup, which sacked him from power had already taken place, he was oblivious of the change of government. He was treating heaps of files and signing certificates of occupancy because he did not want to carry over the 1983 work to the new year.”
The former governor acquired lands all over Lagos and built many primary and secondary schools on them by direct labour. He cancelled the daily double shifts within one week in office. Critics dismissed the emergency schools he hurriedly constructed as poultry sheds.
Reminiscing on that epoch, Jakande said: “Lawyers, doctors, engineers were produced through our free education. Occasionally, I came across them. Up to yesterday, some of them saw me and told me so.”
Asked whether he looked forward to any pension from the state government, he said: “I receive my pension daily. People will come to me at home, or when they see me at functions or at the airport and give me an envelope. I will tell them that I don’t know them. But, they will say they knew me as the governor who served well.”
Jakande administration was the best in the country in the Second Republic. A cabinet of talent was set up, made up of seasoned politicians and technocrats.
Jakande carried along with his leader, Awo, in all his activities, unlike some governors who now blackmail their leaders and label them as godfathers and intruders who should be kept at bay.
In four years, the administration successfully built 14 housing estates. They still exist in Isolo, Eti-Osa, Ikorodu, Mile 2, Ojokoro, Ipaja, Epe, Iba and Alaska. “If not for many of the houses we built, where will these Nigerians be living today,” he asked. To demonstrate his national outlook, he pointed out that discriminatory policy was not adopted in their allocation. “It was a policy of ‘first come, first have,” he stressed.
As host to the Federal Government, Jakande maintained cordial relations with former President Shehu Shagari. He held monthly meetings with him, accompanied by his SSG. That may have been the reason for the approval of the light train project by Shagari. The metro line project was truncated by former military Head of State, Majo-General Muhammadu Buhari, after the coup of 1983.
To implement free education to the tertiary level, Jakande established the Lagos State University (LASU), Ojo. The institution may now be named after him as befitting immortalisation.
Jakande created additional 23 local governments. He also had a plan to create an additional 14. The councils were monitored. The administration reserved 10 per cent of the total state revenue for the councils. But, the chairmen had to come up with the list of projects to be undertaken by the councils.
In the Third Republic, Jakande’s political influence was challenged by the emerging class of young, dynamic, rich and determined “new bred” who he had underrated. The Lagos progressives camp was divided over the governorship aspiration of Prof. Igbalajobi, former SSG in the Jakande administration, and Chief Dapo Sarunmi of Primose. When the duo of Igbalajobi and Sarunmi were banned and Yomi Edu later defeated Abiodun Ogunleye at the new primary, the division widened. On the instruction of Jakande, party faithful voted for Chief Michael Otedola of the NRC, who defeated Edu at the poll.
Also, Jakande’s presidential ambition suffered in the Third Republic. He later teamed up with the late Chief Moshood Abiola, when he vied for the presidency on the platform of the Social Democratic Party (SDP). The free and fair election was criminally annulled by military President Ibrahim Babangida.
Jakande accepted to serve in the Abacha government asazd Minister of Works and Housing from December 1, 1993, to February 8, 1995.
As a minister, he launched the national Housing programme to provide 121,000 housing units in a year. He was able to commission 1,144 units in nine months. By the time he left office, 38, 000 units were under construction
However, he was stuck in the administration where he could neither continue his anti-annulment stand nor resign. When Yoruba leaders, who met at Ibadan, asked their kith and kin in the Abacha government to pull out, Jakande and others could not obey the directive because, to them, it was suicidal.
Later, Abacha sacked him. He returned home into the waiting hands of hostile colleagues who treated them like lepers. When Jakande and former Transport and Aviation Minister Chief Ebenezer Babatope showed up at Afenifere meeting at Jibowu, the door was shut against them.
On that note, Jakande’s political relevance started declining. Politically, he never bounced back. But, his legacies are intact. As a journalist, teacher and author, he had raised a generation of journalists who have continued to play a great role in nation-building.
As a member, later president, of the International Institute, he was instrumental to the collaboration between the institute and the University of Lagos on a short service training for budding journalists in early seventies. Jakande was also instrumental to the establishment of the Nigeria Institute of Journalism (NIJ), Ogba.
The great politician has borne the vicissitudes of life with philosophical calmness and superlative understanding. One of such was the death of his first daughter, Ebun. He also had to contend with betrayal by some associates, who continued to label him as an ‘Abacha man.’ But, he takes solace in the fact that these detractors cannot match his achievements in public life.
Jakande is a recipient of many awards. A committed Muslim, Jakande went on the holy pilgrimage to Mecca in 1977. A member of the Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria, he is the Eteba Adinni of Epe and Badagry Muslims and patron of the United Muslim Council of Nigeria. He was also honoured by the Lagos State House of Assembly.
- Oladesu, a veteran political reporter is the Deputy Editor of The Nation.